Are airlines responsible for bad passengers?

Written by admin on September 25, 2009 – 4:47 pm -

After reading this article about unruly fliers, I wondered how many air travelers had seen other passengers misbehaving.

I’m not referring to parents who allow their children to run up and down the aisles. Or people who cram so much in overhead bins that if they open mid-flight, your life may be at stake. Annoying as those things are, they’re not federal offenses.

Perhaps it’s being a contrarian, but are there times when clearing security, the pre-flight and in-flight experience has been sufficiently exacerbating, that by the time passengers board, they’re ready to riot.

What could airlines do to make travel easier? How would you improve going through security? What measures would you like to see adopted when you’re going from here to there?

If airlines were to serve everyone meals on flights that are longer than two hours (or after you’ve been sitting on the tarmac more than an hour) would that lessen the pain?

In these days of massive cutbacks, are airlines being penny wise and pound foolish, by not offering more customer service when most passengers feel as if they’re being delegated to sardine status  — especially if they’re seated in the far, far back of the plane.

Should airlines stop serving alcohol? Sure, drinks are moneymakers on the P&L statement. But, are there statistics as to how many trouble-making events are directly attributable to passengers’ alcohol levels? Even if they’re served only one drink in-flight, some people are cheap drunks while others may board flights already sloshed.

Should passengers be required to take a Breathalyzer test before boarding? Drug tests?

We’ve been on flights when the crew hasn’t given enough information or when they’ve shared too much — especially in the middle of the night. Plus, there can be communications problems when people don’t understand announcements in a foreign language or they’re so garbled that even if the announcement is in your native language, you’re lost.

Please post some doable things the airlines could tackle to make trips more pleasurable.

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris.


Tags: , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Consumer Traveler |

What and How to Eat, and When?

Written by admin on September 24, 2009 – 7:38 pm -

Before embarking on a trip to a foreign destination, brush up on how, when and what the natives eat. Should you be France-bound, you may need to adapt to a different style of eating; that is, if you want to.

One of France’s many pleasures is its food – so why not enjoy what many people consider one of the country’s major attractions? And even though you can get a bad meal in France, many dedicated eaters still make gastronomic pilgrimages here with the priority of eating. So much so, that as soon as they’re ticketed and know where they’re staying, they make restaurant reservations. Some may consider this traveling by your stomach, but there are worse sins.

Food differentiates countries and cultures, as does etiquette. For example, the French keep their arms and hands on the table and use forks and knives to eat pizza, sandwiches and even tacos. You can decide whether or not to follow suit. But, if you’re attending a business meal, your colleagues are going to look askance if you eat with your hands, with the exception of bread. And it’s OK; unless it’s a very formal meal with bread and butter plates, place the bread on the tablecloth.  If you were in Ethiopia, by contrast, there’s an entirely different set of rules.

Americans tend to eat three meals each day and many succumb to snacking between (and after) them. There are the families who rarely, if ever, sit down together for a home cooked meal and this is increasingly the norm in the good ‘ole USA where too many people catch as catch can.

American breakfasts are generally big and may include eggs, cereal, different breads (bring on the muffins and toast!) juices and coffee, tea or milk. Many dieticians feel this is the most important meal of the day.

Even if it is, the French tend to eat a croissant or a tartine (a portion of a baguette with a light coat of butter) accompanied by a café, a café crème (hot milk, please), a hot chocolate or possibly some tea. If you order a glass of milk in France, be prepared to receive a glass that isn’t what most Americans are used to drinking. More than likely, the milk was poured from a carton and is probably served lukewarm.

Furthermore, Americans are more likely to skimp on lunch than people in Europe, where the mid-day meal is traditionally the day’s main meal.  That may be changing somewhat among the younger generation, who may grab a sandwich or stop at a McDo for a bite to eat.

But, think about it; eating your main meal at lunch makes great and good sense.  Perhaps the days of three-hour lunches are coming to an end though, with the exception of Sunday lunches, en famille, which is still a tradition. The French are even drinking substantially less wine (frequently only one glass) and vintners are crying the blues, as a result.  Wine sales are dramatically down and college students are drinking an increasing amount of soft drinks and beer.

Typically, in France and other EU countries, workers are entitled to restaurant subsidies if their workplace doesn’t have its own canteen (or cafeteria). It’s not unusual to see business colleagues sitting down to a meal and forking over coupons when the tab is presented.

Universities have cafeterias where students are entitled to buy meals for a fraction of what it would cost were they to head to a neighborhood café. Tourists have also been known to eat in them (if security is lax and IDs aren’t being checked), since your money will go a great deal further here than in a traditional restaurant.

School children are fed three-course meals and are expected to eat green things such as broccoli when presented. Menus are published each week in the newspaper so French parents know what their offspring have been served – and more than likely, have consumed.

Bless most French children. They don’t think it’s their innate right to say they’re not going to eat what’s served to them and are adventurous when it comes to tasting different foods. It’s wonderful to watch a three-year-old scarf down puréed celery root.

The reality is, as more couples are both working, big lunches prepared by someone else is a time and work saver, in addition to the other pluses. Dinners often consist of soups and salads accompanied by cheese and perhaps desserts. But rarely is the evening meal the 3+ course variety during the work/school week.

The French are also changing and buying more frozen products than they did years ago. Even here, there’s a different standard when it comes to quality, and many meals (for guests as well) come straight from the shelves of PICARD, which now takes orders on-line and delivers, further simplifying the lives of busy people.

Even though the French do worry somewhat about weight (and some French are gaining a few pounds as more junk food is appearing in markets), they tend to eat smaller portions. But realistically, who wants to go to bed on a full stomach? Is it healthy? Do you get the best night’s sleep and how many calories do you burn off between dinner and crawling under the covers?

It’s likely that your dining habits will change somewhat while abroad, but do you see yourself adopting the French style of eating more mid-day and less at night?


Tags: , ,
Posted in Paris |

What’s in a five-star hotel? And do you want such digs?

Written by admin on September 21, 2009 – 4:50 pm -

In these days, where many people are watching their pennies, are über deluxe five-star hotels become memories of the past? You know, elegantly decorated hotels with a staff available 24-hours-a-day to satisfy every whim?

Well, yes and no. Would you pay for such service? As the famed financier JP Morgan said, “If you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it.” He was probably right.

Let’s face it – there will always be the very rich and famous (or wannabees) who aren’t going to go without. They’re probably just not us. Or if they are, it’s because we’re getting special deals.

Many hotels are offering promotions to keep their room occupancy nights high since they don’t want to let the employees go during these challenging economic times, when unlimited expense account travel is down and even well-to-do tourists are being increasingly cautious.

Other hotels are cutting services, which some hoteliers say is the way to go. Others feel there’s no turning back when the financial crisis is over.

But why does a hotel merit a five-stars and what how are hotels classified?  The global rating system is supposed to be consistent.  In reality, five-star hotels in Paris and New York City are inevitably jazzier and offer more service than hotels in Tunisia. In parts of Asia, hotels are often more sybaritic, as well as service-oriented, because the service personnel’s salaries are substantially less.

What’s the definition of a five-star hotel?  According to Hervé Novelli, Secretary of State for French Tourism, five-star hotels should have most of the same services as the revered Meurice Hotel in Paris:

A multi-lingual concierge staff that can perform miracles and access tickets for events and reservations at restaurants that are ‘impossible’ to come by.
- A gourmet restaurant
- A bar with food service.
- Room Service – 24 hours a day
- A spa or health club
- Laundry and dry-cleaning facilities
- Air-conditioning, individually controlled
- Rooms for non-smokers and ones that are handicapped accessible and equipped

Technology in all Rooms

- Multi-channel TV (LCD and plasma screens)
- High-speed Internet access
- DVD and CD players
- Video and music on demand
- Multi-line telephones
- Dual-voltage power supply
- iPod radio-alarm-clock

Business and Entertaining

- Fully equipped Business corner with Internet access
- Fax machines/ printers in the room on request
- Wi-Fi access in public areas- Private dining room
- Ballroom and banqueting suites

Additional Amenities

- Car or Limousine service services
- Babysitting on request
- Courier services

It goes without saying, bathrooms should be worthy of being featured in “Architectural Digest” and all linens should be perfect, including robes. There should be complimentary bottled water, lavish bathroom amenities, evening turn-down service and a well-stocked mini-bar.

The above services don’t come cheap. But many hotels essentially offer much or many of the same ones.

How do you choose between one hotel and another? Some people may prefer high-tech modern décor opposed to traditional (and often opulent) silk, satins fabrics exuding a more formal look and feel.

The Meurice Hotel has 200 years of tradition and service to differentiate it from this year’s high-rise hotel a block away. There are plenty of five-star hotels that are wonderful but may not be as charming or elegant. It’s up to clients to decide what’s right for them and what they select is very subjective.

Which brings me to my questions. Even if you’re not planning to spend big bucks (Euros or Yen) on a room, what essentials do you require? How do your decisions differ if you’re on business versus pleasure? Do you take advantage of a hotel’s facilities (e.g. a fitness center) or do you just like knowing one is available in case you’re motivated?

When do you decide to splurge on a hotel? If you’re traveling on business and are staying in a big city, how much latitude do you have in deciding where to reserve? If your company has a corporate travel department, do they make housing decisions without your input?

And last but not least: When you’ve check into a hotel that has promised the sun, stars and the moon and find that it’s not delivering what it promised, do you complain? Do you ask to change rooms? Do you check out?

Please post what a five-star hotel experience signifies to you – and whether or not you’re willing to pay for it and when? If you are, which hotels are the ones to which you love to return?

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.


Tags: , , , , ,
Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Ask Karen — And People Do

Written by admin on September 16, 2009 – 7:41 pm -

E-mails to Bonjour Paris are a good barometer as to what readers are thinking and doing. No, we’re not a branch of the French Tourist Office, but, come to think of it, some days, we’d be hard pressed to deny we’re not doing some of its work.

Because we answer all e-mails (some might even accuse the B.P. staff—or me—of being compulsive), people fire off at all hours and expect an immediate response. And more than likely, they’ll receive one within twelve hours. How we wish we could be online 24 hours a day, but it simply isn’t realistic.

One thing that’s glaringly apparent is that people are going to France. Contrasted with a few years ago, frequently it’s last-minute travel. It’s almost as if people can’t stand it anymore and are being seduced by last-minute deep-discounted airfares and hotel-booking sites that are offering rooms at affordable prices.

Business travelers are coming to France now and want information about less expensive digs or where to rent an apartment if they’re staying for a week. Even though the economy is in the tank, executives appear to be realizing that occasional face-to-face contact and shaking hands is a necessity if you’re going to get a job done. Can we suggest less expensive restaurants where to take clients? Make reservations? And yes, they’re leaving for Paris tomorrow afternoon.

Examples of emails we’ve received—and these are the tip of the iceberg:

A recently married woman is coming to Paris and realizes her passport hasn’t been changed to her married name. Theresa sent an email asking, “Didn’t I think she’d be OK if she showed up at the airport with a marriage certificate and a driver’s license that have her ‘new’ name in addition to her passport.”

I shot back an “absolutely not.” She could chance it, but I’d be a nervous wreck getting in and out the US and into France. Perhaps she’d succeed, but my stomach would be tied up in knots. Theresa called the help desk at the airline and, since they’d yet to issue the ticket, they were willing to issue it in her maiden name. Whew.

Another reader sent an e-mail from a man who realized his passport would expire in three months and he’d be fine? Again, off went a reply he didn’t want to hear that included the names of a few companies that expedites visas and new passports.

During my recent travels, I’ve noticed when I’m traveling from one country to another, the person checking my ticket against my passport always looks at the expiration date. Even though this passport and visa site includes all of the information any American traveler could want and need, people don’t always want to take the time to do the research themselves. Who blames them?

Some airlines may allow you to check in online (United does for a fee—at least for U.S. citizens departing from Paris), but since I’m a French resident and my plane tickets originate in France, every time I return to France I have to show the ticket agent my Carte de Séjour, because no one is legally allowed to remain in France without a visa for more than three months. I live in fear that I might misplace that plastic card because I’d be persona non grata.

Another notable e-mail: Susan and John sent one telling me they were planning to bring their miniature Yorkie to Paris since the city is so dog friendly. That’s true. But they assumed they wouldn’t have any trouble sneaking Fidoette on the plane since she’s so tiny and never made a peep buried in Susan’ purse.

I literally called this couple to tell them that they’d better find a puppy sitter or they might be faced with having their baby confiscated while going through security in the U.S. or in France. All animals are required to have specific vaccines, tests, I.D. chips, and a clean bill of health issued by a veterinarian who’s authorized to complete an international health certificate.

On top of that, they’d need to make a reservation for their canine companion and pay between $200-$250 each way (depending on the airline) for the privilege of allowing Fidoette to come to the City of Light.

Some readers probably think I’m exaggerating. How I wish I were.

Now it’s your turn to ask questions. Please register HERE if you need a user name and password and ask away.

There’s no such thing as a (really) stupid question. It’s better to appear silly than end up in another country not knowing what to do where.


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Paris |

Kissing Off the Kissing Habit?

Written by admin on September 9, 2009 – 7:46 pm -

It’s as common as seeing a person carrying a baguette or drinking an espresso while standing at the bar of a neighborhood café, la bise.  But now, now la bise, the cheek-to-cheek pecks that the French use when saying hello or goodbye, has come under pressure as a result of the global swine flu threat.

Even though there have only been three (possible) swine-flu related deaths reported, the French Ministry of Health is alerting people they need to stop kissing. And they mean it even though it goes against the grain of French tradition.

Some are wondering how and if the French will be able to kick la bise habit—and habit it is.  Most Parisians will kiss twice, once on each check, and usually the right cheek gets served first.  I hear that overly enthusiastic students may kiss four times.  But if you kiss three times, people will ask if you’re Belgian.  This is not a compliment, though better to kiss too much than not at all, right?

As winter approaches, some French schools, companies and a hotline sponsored by the Health Ministry are advising students and employees to cut out the kissing, which is as much a ritual as a greeting. They fear that because of flu, a kiss might cause illness or in the extreme possibly death.  Which would be a high price to pay for an air-kiss on the cheek, but better to be cautious than get the flu, which causes people to run incredibly high fevers, is highly contagious and leaves people feeling as if they want to die even if the virus is a temporary affliction. Those who’ve had the flu report that every bone in their body has ached, and some say they’ve never experienced a flu that’s plowed them under as acutely.

So, the Health Ministry advises keeping a minimum of a three-foot distance from people and states that facemasks should be worn when possible. “These are recommendations, not requirements: People are free to do what they like,” said a hotline operator. The government’s main thrust is to encourage people to wash their hands frequently and use sanitary wipes and gels.  Caution is the rule of the week. Teachers are requesting that students refrain from kissing one another—which, if they’re keeping a distance of three feet would be hard to do anyway, but it might be interesting to watch them trying.

Some people are staying away from department stores and other closed places for fear of being infected. Since the swine flu vaccine won’t be available until October, many people are being extra cautious. That’s okay, but not kissing?

Besides prevention, stay home if you’re running a fever or think you might be contracting the flu.   Marie-Louise and Jean have decided to postpone putting their one-year-old into the crèche (day-care) until the flu has come and gone. It will mean one parent will need to stay at home with their daughter until they line up a caregiver.  Some parents are banding together to alternate homes where their children may stay with one parent at a time so they aren’t exposed to twenty or more children who spend their days at a local center.  That’s okay too—though you might ask how many toddlers create a critical mass of infection—but not kissing?

It will be interesting to see whether or not this is yet another blow to tourism. A French tour operator said some people have canceled their travel plans because of the swine flu epidemic—which has not reached epidemic levels in France.  All you have to do is walk through any airport and you’ll see people wearing facemasks.   Is this another avian flu that dealt the deathblow to travel in 1997? Are you postponing your plans for fear of contamination?  Let’s face it; most tourists would rather be sick at home than spending vacation time down and out in a hotel room—even if there is a view of the Eiffel Tower.

But trying to keep people from kissing, while hygienically sound, doesn’t sound very French to me.  I wonder if it will actually become the rule—and la bise will pass into history, along with the beret, the horizontally striped shirt, and the cigarettes known as Parisiennes, sold in paper packages of four really nasty smokes.  And what about shaking hands?  Everybody does that in France, constantly, sometimes even while kissing.  Can that be far behind?  And, while we’re at it, what about sex?


Tags: , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Paris |

Will the French be able to stop kissing to prevent a swine flu outbreak?

Written by admin on September 8, 2009 – 4:53 pm -

In France, kissing is as common as seeing a person carrying a baguette or drinking an espresso while standing at the bar of a neighborhood café.

Now, “la bise,” (cheek-to-cheek pecks) that the French use while saying hello or goodbye, has come under pressure because of the current threat of global swine flu.

Even though only three (possible) swine-flu related deaths have been reported, the French Ministry of Health is alerting people they need to stop kissing. And they are serious, even though it goes against the grain of French tradition.

Some are wondering how and if the French will be able to kick the bise habit. When greeting each other, they peck cheeks alternating three of four times in rapid succession. Parisians, and most especially students, kiss four times. Any excuse and there are additional kisses. Shaking hands and cheek kisses are imprinted in a French person’s psyche as to what’s correct and what’s not.

As winter approaches, some French schools, companies and a hot-line sponsored by Health Ministry, are advising students and employees to avoid the social kissing ritual. They fear that because of flu, a kiss might cause illness or in the extreme, death.

Better to be cautious than contract this strain, which causes people to run incredibly high fevers. It’s highly contagious and leaves people feeling as if they want to die even if the virus is a temporary affliction. Those who’ve had the flu report that every bone in their body has ached and some say they’ve never experienced a flu that’s plowed them under so acutely.

People are advised to keep a minimum of a three feet from others and face masks should be worn when possible. “These are recommendations, not requirements: People are free to do what they like.” said a hot-line operator.

The French government’s main thrust is to encourage people to wash their hands frequently and use sanitary wipes and gels. Caution is the rule of the week. Teachers are requesting students refrain from kissing one another and French government authorities are asking people to sneeze into tissues – or even their sleeves – to avoid air-born germs.

Some people are staying away from department stores and other closed places for fear of being infected. Since the swine flu vaccine isn’t forecast to be available until October, many people are being extra cautious. Besides prevention, stay home if you’re running a fever or think you might be contracting the flu.

It will be interesting to see whether or not this is yet another blow to tourism.

A French tour operator said some people have canceled their travel plans because of the most recent epidemic which isn’t confined to France but is global. Not a day goes by when there aren’t doom and gloom forecasts concerning this pandemic.

All you have to do is walk through any airport and you’ll see people wearing face-masks. Is this another Avian flu that dealt the deathblow to travel a few years ago? Are you postponing your plans for fear of contamination? Let’s face it; most tourists would rather be sick at home rather than spending vacation time down and out in a hotel room – even if there is a view of the Eiffel Tower.

Please post whether or not you’re changing your travel plans. If you’re not, what precautions are you taking? Or, are you among those who view the flu a get-up-and-go opportunity?

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris.


Tags: , , , ,
Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Before Renting a Long-Term Apartment, Try Out Different Neighborhoods

Written by admin on September 3, 2009 – 1:52 pm -

Bonjour Paris is constantly receiving emails from people who are moving to Paris. One of the most frequently asked questions is where to rent an apartment. Such queries are from people who are relocating to Paris for six months or more and don’t simply want digs for a week or two. If that’s the case, renting in the “wrong” quartier isn’t fatal. Chalk it up to experience and a chance to explore a different part of the city.

But living here permanently—or at least for a longish time—is something else. Unlike Americans, the French tend to stay put and generally don’t move unless they’re really pressed for space or have either struck it rich—or are among the nouveaux poor.

Moving is such a pain that even Parisians dread it. Just navigating through the quagmire of utility companies’ documents, waiting for phone hook-ups, and registering and re-registering everything can give the most organized person a mega-headache. And the same applies if you’re just moving in for the first time. The result is that expats, like the French, tend to say put, which can make us insular.

Because of this phenomenon, I decided to test drive another neighborhood, and borrowed an apartment in the seventh arrondissement. Don’t get me wrong: it’s not as if I haven’t been to the 7eme countless times. But spending just three days in residence gave me an entirely different perspective.

I stayed in a Paris Perfect apartment on Avenue de La Bourdonnais. Its living room had a balcony with bird’s-eye view of the Eiffel Tower. Looking a bit further, I could see the Trocadero. I could also see the Champs de Mars and, to the left, the not-so-wonderful Tour Montparnasse.

After getting settled, I immediately hit the pavement and walked the familiar area, but discovered streets, places, and things I’d never seen before such as an incredible Art Nouveau building on Avenue Rapp, designed by Jules Lavirotte, plus (amazingly) free-standing houses that are either occupied by government officials or are private residences.

The shopping street, the Rue Cler, is one of the most renowned in Paris and attracts people from all over the city. A mixture of stores and restaurants, it tends to be busy as people go from stall to stall talking and buying from their favorite vendors.

I’d certainly been through the neighborhood many times, but it was usually when I was escorting visitors to the Eiffel Tower (which I no longer do) or visiting a close friend whose living –room window is about a hundred yards from the Great Parisian Erector Set. So, this was an opportunity to take my time, sit among residents at a local café that was filled with people trailing dogs and children and listen to them talk about vacations and dependents whether they be canine or their off-spring. But the veterinarian’s clinic remained open the entire month.

Walking along the Rue St. Dominique I fell into two of my favorite restaurants that happily were open. Christian Constant is one of my culinary heroes, whom I have known since he headed the kitchen at the Crillon Hotel. When he struck out on his own (and his many disciples opened their restaurants), he added a new dimension to the Parisian culinary scene. Feeling as if I were home again, one night I ate at Café Constant and another evening was spent at Les Cocottes.

Even though the majority of the clients were tourists and more English and Japanese was heard being spoken than French, the master chef and his wife Catherine have trained their staffs to go all out to cater to each and every client. The wait staff is professional, accommodating and speak English.

More importantly, they don’t have an attitude that they’ll never see these diners again and don’t need to care, unlike many restaurants in touristy areas like this which offer indifferent service and mediocre food at high prices to weary tourists who may not be restaurant savvy.

Dinner at Café Constant was first-rate. But the highlight of my eating in the area was Les Cocottes. It’s the perfect place to go even if you’re alone or with a friend (or more) since it’s bar seating with some high tables that accommodate four people.

The food—served primarily in cast iron Staub casseroles, which makes sense since that is what cocottes means—is very hot. But not so hot that I didn’t devour the entrée of the day, thick creamy lobster bisque with crab and moved right onto a fish that had been baked to perfection in its black casserole. My dining companion had a lamb dish, which he pronounced delicious.

It’s a sin to eat and not to eat the tarte au chocalat, one of Constant’s trademark desserts. It’s rich enough that two people can share it and not feel in the least bit cheated.

Because Les Cocottes doesn’t take reservations, be prepared to wait; don’t despair—the restaurant has excellent moderately priced wines, available by the carafe, and tapas—so you won’t starve and might meet some interesting people if you care to socialize.

My brief indoctrination to the seventh arrondissment made me realize that unless you start your day at the bakery (and invariably some are better than others and you can tell by the lines in front of them before they open at 7:00 a.m.) and end your day in the same neighborhood, you don’t really get a sense of it, including public transportation which in this part of town means buses more often than the Métro.

A final thought: don’t think the 7eme is homogeneous. Living on the east side of the Champs de Mars, where I stayed, is totally different from living on the west side. The east side—a triangle formed roughly by the Champs, the École Militaire, and Les Invalides—is an ordinary, if increasingly pricey, Parisian neighborhood with shops and cafés on most ground floors and apartments above. On the other side of the park, the buildings, of the most imposing of the Haussmann style, are a bit frigid and commerce seems to know its place, which is not in those buildings. It is quieter there, but perhaps a lot less interesting—but surely a place worth scouting out on another occasion, just to be sure.

After staying in the 7eme, albeit briefly, I feel a sense of ownership and certainly a great deal more familiarity with the area. If I were moving to Paris again, I’d like to stay in different areas of the city before plunking down money for a permanent apartment. Your work location or your children’s schools may influence the decision. But the city’s transportation system is so good you may have a lot of options.


Tags: , , , , , ,
Posted in Paris |